April 30, 2005
Is Unapproved Home Education "Neglect?"

In September, 2002, Diane Heath [not her real name] started homeschooling without written approval from her school district. On September 6, someone reported her for educational neglect. Elizabeth Greer from Child Protective Services came to the home and learned that Diane was homeschooling her son Michael. She contacted the school district and found that there was a dispute about the paperwork. The district insisted that she had not yet filled out the proper forms.

Seven days after receiving the report, Ms. Greer "supported" the allegation of educational neglect. Five days after that, the school committee officially voted to approve Michael's home education program. This decision, however, made no difference to the Department of Social Services, which listed Diane as a child neglecter in the state's Central Registry. Diane asked for a "Fair Hearing" to review this determination.

Thirty-one months later, attorney Scott Somerville flew up to Massachusetts to review the neglect determination (Massachusetts has so few Fair Hearing officers that it routinely takes more than two years to appeal a finding of neglect or abuse). At the hearing, the Department of Social Services took the position that any child who is out of the school without approval for even a single day is "neglected." HSLDA explained that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has repeatedly ruled on the constitutional dimension of home education, and that schools or prosecutors must show not merely that the homeschool program is unapproved, but that the child is actually not receiving education that is at least as thorough, efficient, and makes as much progress as the local public school in the same town. Since the local school approved Michael's program shortly after the neglect determination was made, there could be no factual question about the educational quality of the program. The only question to be decided was a legal one: Is unapproved home education neglect?

The hearing officer listened to both sides with interest and announced that she will release her written determination in a month or two. Although Fair Hearing decisions are confidential, she explained that Diane could authorize the release of the Fair Hearing results if she so chose. Diane gladly consented to share the results of her case with other Massachusetts homeschoolers. HSLDA will report on the results of this hearing as soon as they become available. Please pray for this family and the hearing officer as the decision is pending.

UPDATE: In April 2005, the Department of Social Services reversed its decision to support the allegation of educational neglect against Diane Heath.